The Baltic Region

2023 Vol. 15 №2

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International heritage in the memorial landscape of the Kaliningrad region



This article aims to analyse the structure of sites in the Kaliningrad region commemorating events, phenomena or figures of international history, as well as to reveal their symbolic significance. The study uses empirical data on the origin, time of construction and purpose of the monuments, memorials and other places of commemoration. Theoretically, it draws on the concepts of cultural memory and sites of memory. The idiographic and historiographic methods were employed along with general scientific methods. At the core of the region’s international memorial landscape structure are sites commemorating the German past of the area or linked to Lithuanian and, less frequently, Polish national cultures. The structure of the memorial heritage is largely a product of the selective preservation of pre-war monuments and constructions in the Soviet period and post-Soviet commemorative activities in the Kaliningrad region, ‘a region of cooperation’. Its most substantial, German, component is a complex symbolic system honouring the intellectual culture of East Prussia and its prominent figures. And, not unlike its Lithuanian and Polish components, it lacks inner unity. Most of the memorial objects examined have been integrated into all-Russian or regional historical narratives and corresponding discourses. Reflecting the ‘Russian story line’ in the local history, it has been appropriated by the local culture of memory.



The current political situation in Eastern Europe and former Soviet states is dominated by growing instability and conflict as much as by intensifying confrontation in the information space, part of which is the ‘struggle for the past’ seeking to preserve the established accounts or making major changes in the ‘memory space’. Just like popular science, educational and media narratives, an essential element of this struggle is the transformation of the symbolic space: the removal of ‘alien’ memorials failing to fit the symbolic landscape. The most effective way to wage a ‘war of monuments’ is their demolition, a quick action generating instant publicity. As a rule, monument removal is accompanied by information campaigns justifying the demolition of cultural and historical heritage objects.

As the international crisis worsens, monument demolition gathers pace in Poland, the Baltics and particularly Ukraine, where numerous ‘operations’ aimed to destroy memorial sites connected to the history of the Russian Empire, the USSR or the life and achievements of prominent figures in Russian and Soviet culture have been carried out or are being prepared. These circumstances naturally draw scholarly attention to the structure of the memorial landscape of the Kaliningrad region, whose neighbours — Poland and Lithuania — are at the helm of cultural memory reformatting.

Apart from monuments and other memorial objects linked to the Russian/ Soviet past, Russia’s westernmost region is home to sundry sites commemorating events, phenomena and figures from international history. The answer to this puzzle is in the history of the region, which was established in 1946 on the territory of what was the northern part of Germany’s province of East Prussia. The area had long been a ‘crossroads of cultures’ where ethnic groups and states had been coming in contact and dramatic events had been taking place, some of them closely intertwined with Russian history: the Grand Embassy of Peter the Great, the battles of the Seven Years’, Napoleonic, First World and other wars. The area abounds with sites commemorating the final events of the Second World War in Europe, particularly the Red Army offensive of autumn 1944 — spring 1945. The past of East Prussia is inextricably linked to German, Polish and Lithuanian history. Despite the destruction wrought by the war and the complex fate of the local monuments, most of them survived the Soviet rule. Besides German, Polish and Lithuanian memorials, there are singular objects honouring the historical tradition of other European peoples and states, for example, France.

The region’s international memorial heritage does not constitute a unified composite but has a complex structure. The symbolic significance of some commemorative sites permits embedding them into the Russian historical narrative, while others are linked exclusively to the history of Europe. Finally, there are those commemorative sites that have been integrated into the regional culture of remembrance.

This article seeks to analyse the structure of places of remembrance — monuments, memorials, commemorative plaques and commemorative architecture — that appeared in what is now Kaliningrad region primarily in the pre-war and post-Soviet periods and have a symbolic meaning associated with the history and national cultures of Germany, Poland and Lithuania. Describing this symbolic meaning is another aim of this study.

Historiographic and theoretical state of research

Monuments of the pre-war past preserved in the Kaliningrad region, as well as new places of remembrance have been extensively discussed in post-Soviet publications, many of them concrete historical studies and reference materials. Pre-war, i.e. German, monuments are seen as part of the historical and cultural heritage and thus recognised as a factor in regional identity [1, p. 50—55], [2, p. 39, 40], [3, p. 53—56]. The origins of the peculiar regional narrative about the past, which emerged in the Soviet period have been addressed by Yuri Kostyashov, along with the general features of the historical consciousness of the region’s Soviet population. It is worth noting that Kostyashov headed a project aiming to record the memories of the first settlers in the Kaliningrad region, many of whom spoke of the enormous influence landmark pre-war buildings and other artefacts had on the way Soviet people saw the region [4], [5]. The problem of the reception of German monumental heritage and the emergence of new places of remembrance associated with the region’s pre-war history has been investigated by Syuzanna Fostova, Yuri Kostyashov and Ilya Dementyev [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]. A range of works published at the beginning of the 21st century describe the regional memorial landscape structure as complex and embracing pan-European, East Prussian and Russian commemorative sites, as well as those that are exclusive to Kaliningrad [11, p. 28—31].

International scholars, particularly researchers from Germany and Poland, have also examined the historical consciousness peculiar to the residents of the South-Eastern Baltic region, once the province of East Prussia. Per Brodersen looked at the Sovietisation of Königsberg, and its transformation into Kaliningrad in socio-cultural, mental and toponymic terms [12]. Andrzej Sakson employed the comparative approach when analysing the socio-cultural characteristics of today’s residents of Lithuania’s Klaipėda County, Russia’s Kaliningrad region and Poland’s Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship — all of them former constituents of East Prussia [13]. East Prussian heritage in the infrastructure and cultural life of the study part of the Baltic [14], as well as various aspects of local memory politics and cultural memory [15] have been explored in several works.

This article draws on Pierre Nora’s concept of lieu de mémoire (sites of memory) [16, p. 202—208] which has been extensively used in memory studies [17], [18], [19], [20], [21]. Sites of memory create a symbolic ‘framework’ for cultural memory, which is both a symbolic form of conveying and foregrounding cultural meanings, irreducible to individual and group experience, and a continuous process of maintaining society’s identity through reconstructing its past [17, p. 37, 38], [21, p. 26].

Current research in the humanities tends to focus on the politics of memory practices, which aim to adjust or shape the existing image of the past in mass consciousness. It also explores the role of cultural memory in shaping social reality [22], [23], [24]. The relationship between cultural memory and identity has also been thoroughly investigated, along with the problem of using elements of cultural memory in ensuring the ‘ontological security’ of the state and society [25, p. 134]. Several authors have emphasised the significance of studying local and group-specific narratives about the past for understanding to which extent and in what manner the ‘greater Russian narrative’ is present in the historical consciousness of residents of selected regions [24, p. 8—10], [26], [27], [28]. Another important line of research is the exploitation and reformatting of memorial objects dating back to earlier periods, including the Soviet era, in constructing national identity (see [26]). Some works have also looked at how the perceptions of monuments and other memorial objects evolve as generations change [27; 28]. Researchers from Kaliningrad have considered from the perspective of symbolic space reformatting/recoding what trends are dominant in the Baltics’, Poland’s and Ukraine’s politics of memory amid the mounting political crisis [29], [30], [31].

German sites of remembrance

The memory of the Kaliningrad region’s German past is the part of the local ‘cultural horizon’ most visible to the outside observer. It is present in urban and rural architecture informing tourist products and popular narratives about the region’s past, as well as offering possibilities for commercial gain. Kaliningrad is rich in places of remembrance that hold value for Germans who once lived in East Prussia, their descendants and German citizens in general. These are memorial sites (monuments, commemorative plaques and stones) and architectural structures (churches, manors, castles), which can be divided chronologically into pre-war and post-war sites, most of the latter originating in the post-Soviet period. The ‘German’ sites can be further categorised into several types depending on the persons, groups or events that they commemorate.

1. Monuments to German public officials and politicians. There are few memorial objects of this kind in the region. During the East Prussian offensive and the first years after the war, almost all monuments to prominent figures in the Teutonic Order, Prussia and the German Empire have destroyed or dismantled. The bas-reliefs on the façade of the Kings’ Gate (King Ottokar II of Bohemia, who is credited with building in 1255 what would later become the Königsberg Castle, Albrecht of Hohenzollern, the founder of the Duchy of Prussia, and the first Prussian King Friedrich I) were preserved, albeit in a badly damaged state. During the reconstruction of the gate, timed to coincide with the 750th anniversary of the city celebrated in 2005, the sculptures were restored and re-installed on the façade. The bas-relief of the Prussian generals Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst and August Neidhardt von Gneisenau have survived on the façade of the Rosgarten Gate; the portraits of Prussia’s Minister of War Leopold Hermann von Boyen and General Ernst Ludwig von Aster are still to be seen on the Brandenburg Gate.

Busts of the philosopher Karl Marx, the author of The Communist Manifesto and Capital, and Ernst Thälmann, a German communist politician, were erected in Kaliningrad in the Soviet period in 1961 and 1977 respectively. Marx and Thälmann were the most celebrated figures in the German segment of the Soviet pantheon, which also included other prominent thinkers and working class movement leaders: Friedrich Engels, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin, to name a few. Both busts were created by the famous Soviet sculptor Boris Edunov. Today, the monument to Marx performs an educational and cultural rather than ideological function, reminding of the work and heritage of one of the greatest 19th-century thinkers, whose ideas had a tremendous impact on the modern history of Russia and the world. The bust of Thälmann, as well as the street and garden square bearing his name, perpetuates the memory of a leader of the anti-fascist movement and anti-Hitler resistance in Germany.

In the post-Soviet period, Kaliningrad commemorated Albrecht Hohenzollern, the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, the founder of the Duchy of Prussia and the University of Königsberg. A monument to Albrecht, sculptured by Fedor Morozov, was put up near the Kaliningrad Cathedral in 2005. A copy of the sculpture created by Johann Friedrich Reusch in 1891 lost in the early post-war years, it was relocated to the site where a building of the University of Königsberg once stood thus emphasising the role of Albrecht as the founder of the institution. In 2011, a memorial stone to Albrecht appeared in Sovetsk, its inscription naming him the duke who granted city rights to Tilsit in 1552. The stone is found on the square that was named after the duke before the war. The name of Albrecht Hohenzollern is also associated with close diplomatic contacts with the Russian state, as well as joint military and political actions taken against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland in the first third of the 16th century.

In 2005—2008, statues of two Teutonic Order commanders — Komtur of Balga Friedrich von Zollern and Grand Master Siegfried von Feuchtwangen — were restored.

2. Monuments of German artists and scientists.

Several sites in Kaliningrad commemorate the University of Königsberg (Albertina) and its professors. The university had a pivotal role in the development of Russian science and education in the 18th century, as well as in the history of European Enlightenment and philosophical thought.

In the Soviet period, in 1975, a memorial plaque honouring Friedrich Bessel (1784—1846), an outstanding scientist and astronomer, an honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, was installed in Kaliningrad on the site of the Königsberg Observatory, where a bust of the scientist once stood.

Immanuel Kant (1724—1804), one of the most influential philosophers of the Modern era and a prominent figure in the German Enlightenment, has received special attention. The most well-known monument to Kant in Kaliningrad is the bronze statue cast in Germany in 1992. Using a miniature model for reference, the sculptor Harald Haacke reproduced the lost 1857 monument by Christian Daniel Rauch. The restored statue was unveiled in 1992 and put up on the extant pedestal of the original monument. A vital part in the restoration was played by Countess Marion Dönhoff, in whose manor the original monument was hidden during the war. A memorial plaque to Countess Dönhoff, an icon of West German political journalism, was installed in the village of Kamenka (Friedrichstein until 1947), her family estate before 1945.

There are several other objects commemorating Kant in Kaliningrad: the tomb of the philosopher at the wall of the Cathedral (it has become a traditional meeting place for the researchers and admirers of Kantian philosophy), a memorial plaque on the site of the philosopher’s house, a memorial plaque with quotes from Kant and a Kant bench at the World Ocean Museum. The late 1980s-early 1990s witnessed a growing interest in Kant from Kaliningrad intellectuals. At the beginning of the 21st century, the philosopher’s name and image were integrated into tourist narratives and practices. In 2016, Tsentralny Island in Kaliningrad was officially renamed Kant Island. Today, Kant is the most recognisable and popular foreign figure in the region’s pre-war history, among locals and visitors alike; his name has become somewhat of a tourist ‘brand’. A memorial plaque to three Albertina professors — Ludvikas Rėza, Carl Burdach and Christian Jakob Kraus — was unveiled on the site of the Old Altstadt Cemetery in Kaliningrad in 2007. Its installation was initiated by the administration of the Immanuel Kant Russian State University (now Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University) and the Consulate General of the Republic of Lithuania. The project was funded by a private benefactor, the poet and entrepreneur Boris Bartfeld.

The university past of the city is also commemorated by the monument to professors of the University of Königsberg, which was erected in 2014 on the site of the former Albertina Professors’ Necropolis. The monument is shaped like an amphitheatre symbolising a university lecture hall. The central stele has a bas-relief of Duke Albrecht; below, there are 11 names of Albertina professors who worked at the university in the second half of the 18th and 19th centuries and were buried in the necropolis.

Dozens of artists epitomising Germany’s cultural tradition were born, lived and worked in East Prussia. Many of them have been commemorated in the region’s memorial space. A memorial stone honouring E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776—1822), a Romantic author of fantasy and graduate of the Albertina, appeared as early as 1990. Plaques and stones have been installed in tribute to Käthe Kollwitz (1867—1945), a celebrated artist, printmaker and sculptor; Friedrich Heitmann (1853—1921), a prominent architect, the person behind the ‘Amalienau villa colony’, who designed innumerable religious and public buildings, as well as private homes; Thomas Mann (1875—1955), a Nobel Prize winner, master of sophisticated prose and anti-fascist; poets Frieda Jung (1865—1929) and Johanna Ambrosius (1854—1939).

Sovetsk (formerly Tilsit) boasts plaques honouring the German early 19th-century poet Max von Schenkendorf (1783—1817), who was born and grew up in the town, and Johannes Bobrowski (1917—1965). A native of Tilsit, Bobrowski was called up into the Wehrmacht in 1939 and fought in the USSR. From 1945 to 1945, he was imprisoned by the Soviet Union, where he worked in the Donbas coal mines and on the reconstruction of the Rostov region. Having, moved to the GDR, he found employment in publishing; his poems appeared internationally, including the USSR.

In Kaliningrad, the only surviving pre-war monument of a German artist is that to Friedrich Schiller (1759—1805). A work of Stanislaus Cauer, it was put up in 1910. The first restoration took place in the early 1950s; in the 1960s, the monument was added to the list of heritage sites, remaining to this day under federal protection.

An unconventional place of remembrance is the memorial stone commemorating Ännchen von Tharau (Anna Neander, 1619—1689) installed at the town cemetery of Chernyakhovsk, where she was buried. Ännchen was the heroine of a poem by Simon Dach (1605—1659), who later became rector of the University of Königsberg. The verse was made into a song vastly popular in Germany in the 18th—19th century.

3. Sites commemorating landmarks in German history.

There are few surviving monuments in the region that commemorate specific events in the history of the German state. One of them is the memorial stone honouring the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of Prussia. It was installed in 1901 near the village of Rosenberg (renamed Krasnoflotskoe in 1945, today part of Mamonovo). Seriously damaged, the monument was restored in 1994 at the initiative of the former residents of the village. At the moment, there are no inscriptions on the stone connecting it with the foundation of the Kingdom of Prussia. One engraving, in German, reads ‘Rosenberg. 1368. Zum Gedenken [In commemoration]’ refers to the year of the foundation of the village; the other, in Russian ‘25.03.45 Rosenberg byl nazvan Kransoflotskoe’ states the date when the village was renamed to its current name.

Germany’s politics of memory paid particular attention to the establishment of the Second Reich and the wars that provided Prussia with the dominant role in the process. Several places of remembrance have survived in the Kaliningrad region that once were part of this memorial narrative. In Pillkallen (today, the village of Dobrovolsk in the Krasnoznamensk municipality), a monument was erected in the 1870s to commemorate the victims of the 1860s—1870s’ wars, whose outcome allowed the Prussian elite to found an empire. Prussia and the Russian Empire were strategic partners at that time, a circumstance that was conducive to the success of Prussian foreign policy in Europe. In 2012, four concrete crosses were put up near the village of Kalinino in the Nesterov municipality on the site of a lost monument honouring the Prussian victory in the war against France (1870—1871). A memorial stone and an oak tree commemorating the same event have survived in Sovetsk.

In 1869, Germany and the lands under its influence at the time began to erect a special type of monuments known as Bismarck Towers. These towers were built as a tribute to Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, who played a central role in the German imperial historical narrative. In the Kaliningrad region, ruins of two such towers survive: one near the village of Gorino in the Neman municipality; the other, near the village of Krasnaya Gorka in the environs of Chernyakhovsk. In the Nesterov municipality, there are memorial stones commemorating the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to those parts in 1903—1908 and celebrating his deer hunting prowess. The stones can be seen near the villages of Sosnovka and Dmitrievka, as well as in the Rominte Heath.

4. Sites commemorating the history of East Prussian towns and communities; places of family remembrance.

In the post-Soviet period, the interest in the past of the region’s towns and villages has been steadily growing in Kaliningrad, evidenced by inordinate publications in the media, books and research periodicals. The fascination with local history manifests itself in commemorative activities as well: new places of remembrance have appeared in the region, establishing links between the past and the present.

Some of the new commemorative sites have been created on the initiative of, and funded by, former residents. One of them is the memorial stone dedicated to the late residents of Cranz (now Zelenogradsk). It was installed in the 1990s on the site of a German cemetery. In the same decade, a monument to the town of Schirwindt was erected on the site where it was once located: renamed Kutuzovo after the war, it no longer exists. The memorial features the town’s coat of arms and an inscription in German. The monument erected in the village of Kostrovo, (Bludau until 1946) in the Zelenogradsk municipality has an inscription in German and Russian that reads ‘In memory of the residents of Bludau district and all fallen German and Russian soldiers’.

Other sites commemorating the past of towns and villages have appeared at the instigation of local regional historians and public figures. For instance, a memorial stone was installed in the village of Nivenskoe to commemorate its foundation; it bears an inscription indicating the village’s former name and the year of its foundation (Wittenberg 1542). A similar memorial stone was laid in the village of Kornevo (Zitten until 1945) in the Bagrationovsk municipality; another one was unveiled in the town of Mamonovo (Heiligenbeil until 1947) in 2001 to commemorate its 700th anniversary.

The pre-war architecture of East Prussian towns has commanded wide attention as well. The models of medieval Königsberg installed near a hotel in the resort town of Svetlogorsk and at the Kaliningrad Cathedral on Kant Island have been immensely popular with tourists. The latter, depicting the architectural landmarks of the 1930s’ Königsberg,1 was donated to Kaliningrad by the East Prussian Aid Society in 2012.

Memorial objects featuring elements of the pre-war names of local institutions comprise a particular group. A prime example is the hospital building in Ozersk, which has a plaque commemorating Fritz Richard Schaudinn (1871—1906), a German parasitologist and the co-discoverer of the syphilis pathogen. It also mentions that the hospital in Darkehmen (the name of the town before 1938) was named after the scientist. The building of the Sergey Rakhmaninov Musical College in Kaliningrad bears a plaque informing that, from 1921 to 1945, it housed the Friedrich Bessel Grammar School for Boys.

The ‘nostalgia-driven tourism’ of the first post-Soviet decades gave rise to the creation or revitalisation of places of family remembrance by former residents of East Prussia or their descendants.

5. International cemeteries, military graveyards and memorials.

A remarkable manifestation of local memorial culture is international cemeteries where both German and Russian (Soviet) soldiers who fell in the world wars were interred. In 1994, Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) erected in Pravdinsk (Friedland until 1946) a monument to the residents of the town killed in the First and Second World Wars. It has an inscription in German and Russian, which reads ‘We remember our dead’. In 1995, a stele appeared in the village of Veselovka (Bärwalde until 1847) with the inscription ‘In memory of Bärwalde residents and all the Russian and German soldiers who fell here’.

In the 1990s, the construction of an international memorial cemetery commenced in Baltiysk; it was completed in 2000. Over 13,000 people were interred there, most of them Germans, civilians and soldiers who died at the beginning of 1945, and concentration camp prisoners, predominantly Soviet citizens. In 2001, the German War Graves Commission initiated the reconstruction of the former communal cemetery in Kaliningrad. Opened in 2003, it was granted memorial status. It became the last resting place for the civilians, German soldiers and POWs of different nations who died during the Battle of Königsberg and the August 1944 bombing of the city. The memorial is also a tribute to the Red Army soldiers who fell in East Prussia.

In 2014, a cross in memory of the late residents of Tilsit was erected in Sovetsk on the site of the former butchers’ cemetery at the instigation of the local youth; the initiative was supported by the Sovetsk branch of the Young Guard of United Russia. The cross marks the location of an old town cemetery, whose last vestige disappeared after the war. Its plaque lists the names of the residents of Tilsit who had been buried at the graveyard, according to surviving records. There is also the so-called Forest Cemetery in Sovetsk — the burial place of those fallen in the battles of the First World War and the German soldiers and civilians who died in 1944—1945. The erection of the memorial was supported by the German War Graves Commission. Unveiled in 2006, it has a plaque listing the names of the German soldiers buried at the site. In the Nesterov municipality, near the village of Sovkhoznoe, there is a war memorial from the 1920s. To date, this is the region’s largest communal grave of German and Russian soldiers fallen in the First World War.

A memorial stone commemorating the residents of Preußisch Eylau was laid in Bagrationovsk (the current name of the town) in 2008. The stone bears a Latin cross and the inscription: ‘In memory of all citizens of Preußisch Eylau who died in the crucible of the Second World War. Installed at the expense of the survivors and their descendants’.

In addition to international cemeteries and monuments in memory of local residents killed in attacks, there are also sites commemorating German soldiers fallen in the First and Second World Wars.

The German war cemetery in Primorsk was reconstructed in 1996; over 1,600 soldiers who died in 1945 are buried there. In 1992, a German POW camp cemetery, which functioned in 1945—1949 was restored near the village of Mayovka in the Chernyakhovsk municipality.

On the one hand, many monuments created in the 1990s and 2000s by Germans or with their assistance embodied the ‘spirit of reconciliation’ and integration that prevailed at the time. On the other, they reflected attempts at memorialising the local population and the fallen Wehrmacht soldiers through compromise solutions, such as placing them in the wider context of local residents and mentioning Russian soldiers; this partly lifted suspicions about the possible rehabilitation of German servicemen.

Lithuanian places of remembrance

In the modern era, the territory of today’s Kaliningrad region witnessed a significant development of Lithuanian national culture and the standardization of the language. The Balts — Lietuvininkai or the Prussian Lithuanians, newcomers from Lithuanian lands and the descendants of Prussians — accounted for a substantial part of the population of the Duchy of Prussia, which later became East Prussia, in the 16th-early 20th century. The term Klein-Litauen (Lithuania Minor) first appeared in the German chronicles of the 16th century to denote regions populated by both Germans and Lithuanians. Lithuania Minor spanned today’s Klaipėda County and the eastern part of what is today the Kaliningrad region. Historically, the Kaliningrad region was considered an ethnographic region within East Prussia, but it did not have the status of cultural or administrative autonomy. German colonists came to settle there in numbers, and the territory was gradually Germanised. In the pre-war years, most Prussian Lithuanians identified themselves first as residents of Prussia and only then as Lithuanians [32, p. 20, 21]. Most of the region’s population, both Lithuanians and Germans, left it before and during the Red Army’s East Prussian offensive in the autumn of 1944 — spring of 1945. The remaining local population was resettled to the Soviet occupation zone of Germany in 1947—1949. In the Soviet period, the region’s population had the largest percentage of Lithuanians among all RSFSR territories. Yet, with very few exceptions, these Lithuanians were newcomers from the Lithuanian SSR rather than descendants of Prussian Lithuanians.

Although the term ‘Lithuania Minor’ is widely used in the contemporary Lithuanian media and political discourse,<1> most of the region has never been part of the Lithuanian national state, with the exception of Klaipėda County, which was annexed by Lithuania in 1923 and later included into the Lithuanian SSR.

Most of the few Lithuanian places of remembrance in the Kaliningrad region are linked to the 16th—19th-century landmarks in the history of Lithuanian culture.

In Kaliningrad and Neman, there are memorial plaques to Martynas Mažvydas (1510—1563), a Lutheran pastor from Ragnit (today, Neman), writer and alumnus of the Albertina. In 1547, he published the first printed Lithuanian book Catechismusa Prasty Szadei (The Simple Words of Catechism), which lay the foundation for the Lithuanian written tradition. The dawn of Lithuanian literature is closely linked to the name of the poet Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714—1780), the author of the poem Metai (The Seasons). He served as a pastor at a Lutheran church in the village of Tolmingkehmen (now Chistye Prudy in the Nesterov municipality). A Donelatis museum opened in the village in 1970 as a branch of the Kaliningrad Museum of History and Fine Arts. It consists of the Lutheran church, near which a memorial stone was laid, and the pastor’s house. In 1989, a memorial plaque was installed to mark the birthplace of Donelaitis; in 2004, a monument to the poet was unveiled in the town of Gusev.

‘The Seasons’ was published posthumously at the beginning of the 19th century by the Protestant pastor, professor at the University of Königsberg, a scholar of Lithuanian folklore and a translator of the Bible into Lithuanian, Ludvikas Rėza (1776—1840). In 2005, a monument to Rėza was unveiled in Kaliningrad, becoming the centrepiece of Lithuanian Square.

Prominent figures in East Prussia’s Lithuanian culture were the philologists Fridrichas/Friedrich (1806—1884) and Aleksandras Kuršaitis/Alexander Kurschat (1857—1944). In honour of their contributions, a plaque was unveiled in 2009 in the town where they lived and worked, which is now known as Zelenogradsk. Friedrich Kurschat, a professor at the University of Königsberg, dedicated his studies to the grammar of the Lithuanian language. He worked on and published German-Lithuanian and Lithuanian-German dictionaries. He was also a co-founder of the Lithuanian Literary Society. Alexander Kurschat, a teacher at the Tilsit gymnasium, prepared a new Lithuanian—German dictionary. He moved to Germany after retirement.

Pranas Domšaitis (Franz Karl Wilhelm Domscheit, 1880—1965), a German expressionist artist of Lithuanian descent, was born in the village of Kropiens (now Gaevo in the Guryevsk municipality) and graduated from the Königsberg Academy of Fine Arts. In the 1930s, he became friends with the artist Emil Nolde, a member of the Nazi Party at the time. At the end of the decade, Domšaitis’s pictures, along with those of Nolde, were displayed at the Degenerate Art exhibition; his works were heavily criticised in Germany. In 1949, he emigrated to South Africa, where he continued to paint. At the joint initiative of the Consulate General of Lithuania, Klaipeda and Kaliningrad artists, a memorial plaque was placed in 2006 on the house where Domšaitis lived.

Another Lithuanian place of remembrance is the catholic church in the village of Bolshakovo in the Slavsk municipality (Groß Skaisgirren until 1938 and Kreuzingen in 1938—1947). The building, constructed in 1925, houses the St John the Baptist Parish, which belongs to the Catholic Church. A Catholic community was registered in the village of Bolshakovo as early as 1991.

Most of the objects commemorating Lithuanian culture are located in the eastern part of the region (Gusev, Bolshakovo, Sovetsk, Chistye Prudy and Neman), i.e. within the former ethnographic area of Lithuania Minor, as well as in Kaliningrad. They commemorate distinct stages in the development of Lithuanian linguistics, literature and philology in East Prussia, bringing to the fore the contribution of Lithuanians to the region’s intellectual life of the Modern era and the development of European art. Moreover, they emphasise the role the region had in the history of the Lithuanian language. The Catholic churches, albeit important meeting gathering places for the Lithuanian community, do not always function as ‘places of remembrance’.

Polish places of remembrance

The list of memorial sites in the Kaliningrad region associated with Polish national history is short. The northern part of East Prussia, which later constituted the Russian region, was historically part of the ‘Germanic world’. Considered a ‘barbaric periphery’ of Christian Europe before the Teutonic conquest, it did not occupy a prominent place in the development of the Polish people, statehood or culture.

However, Poland has preserved the memory of Adalbert of Prague, a saint and missionary who died in Prussia in 997 at the hands of non-believers. In 1822, a wooden cross was erected in the village of Tenkitten (now Beregovoe in the Baltiysk municipality) where it is believed that St. Adalbert was killed, as a tribute to his courageous act of faith. In 1997, on the occasion of the thousandth anniversary of Adalbert’s martyrdom, a metal cross was erected at the same site, which remains the primary place of remembrance for Catholic mission work in the region.

After the war, Poland and the USSR had a shared memory of the struggle against Nazism and Nazi crimes. Near the village of Hohenbruch (now Gromovo in the Slavsk municipality), there was a camp where Polish intellectuals, members of Polish national organisations, consular staff and prisoners from Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were held during the Second World War. In 2005—2012, a memorial was built at the site. A memorial cross and two stones were installed with inscriptions in Russian and Polish; another stone lists the names of the Polish consular staff who died in Hohenbruch. The text on the memorial tablet added at the initiative of the governments of the Kaliningrad region and the Republic of Poland concludes with the words: ‘In memory of all those who suffered and died here’.

There are three other monuments commemorating Polish artists and scientists who visited East Prussia at different times. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473—1543), the author of the heliocentric model, visited Kaliningrad in a medical capacity at the invitation of Duke Albrecht. A monument to Copernicus was put up near the main building of the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University. Sculpted by Xawery Dunikowski, it was a gift to the Kaliningrad University from the Aleksander Gieysztor Academy of Humanities and the Jagiellonian University. In 2010, Poland presented Kaliningrad with a bust of Frédéric Chopin (1810—1849) to mark the 200th anniversary of the Polish composer.

A statue of Adam Mickiewicz (1798—1855) was unveiled in 2015 in Zelenogradsk, which the celebrated Romantic poet visited in 1824. The local library took part in the creation of the monument. Not only did Mickiewicz make a major contribution to the development of Polish and Belarusian poetry, but he was an active member of the Polish national movement and political journalist. Devastated by the suppression of the 1830 Polish Uprising, he sought to create a Polish national legion to aid the allies in their fight against Nikolaian Russia during the Crimean War.

Summarising the review of the Polish places of remembrance, it is worth noting that, are heterogeneous in terms of style and meaning, these memorial objects do not create even a sketchy narrative of the Polish presence in the region’s history.


Compared to some Eastern European states, Russia’s Kaliningrad region seems a ‘safe haven’, a pocket of prudence and respect for the memory of the past: monuments from different eras and cultures coexist here, constituting the local memory landscape [29, p. 129—132]. This favourable situation is owed to the dedicated work of Kaliningrad historians, journalists, artists, and authorities over many years. They have been committed to creating an atmosphere of cooperation and integrating cultural heritage in the region. Isolated instances of memorial conflicts have not given rise to a major trend in the regional culture of remembrance. Unrestricted scientific and public discussion about local history, a common practice in the region, makes a sharp contrast to the Soviet decades. It has produced a coherent picture of the region’s complicated past and helped Kaliningraders ‘appropriate’ a considerable part of the international historical and cultural heritage.

The memorial sites in Kaliningrad associated with international cultural heritage can be categorized based on different criteria, including their national affiliation (German, Polish, Lithuanian), the purpose of commemoration (monuments to public figures, memorials to historical events, military graves), their alignment with the official Russian historical narrative, and their integration into the regional cultural memory. By considering the last criterion, the local places of remembrance can be grouped into several categories with varying symbolic significance.

Firstly, there are monuments linked by the mass historical consciousness not so much to foreign as to domestic historical experience. These are, for example, monuments to Karl Marx, whose ideas had an enormous influence on Russia’s modern and contemporary history or the communist Ernst Thälmann, a prominent figure in the Comintern and an icon of German anti-fascism.

Secondly, there are sites commemorating Russian history but closely connected to international narratives and integrated into various discourses, foreign, domestic and regional alike. A prime example is Kantian places. An outstanding German philosopher and Enlightenment thinker, the key personality in regional cultural memory and the most recognisable figure in the region’s pre-war history, Immanuel Kant was a Russian citizen during the Seven Years’ War. Although the memorial at the site of the concentration camp Hohenbruch bears witness to the Nazi crimes against Polish intellectuals, Soviet citizens were held prisoner at the camp as well, and Soviet troops fought in the area. Prominent personalities in German history and culture, Albert, Duke of Prussia, and the astronomer Friedrich Bessel are also part of Russian regional and national political discourse. The former was an ally of Vasily III of Russia in his fight against the Polish-Lithuanian state and the founder of the University of Königsberg; the latter was an honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and promoter of European and Russian science.

Thirdly, some places of remembrance have a tenuous link to the Russian historical narrative, if any at all. They are barely integrated into the historical consciousness of Kaliningraders. These sites were either ‘inherited’ by the Russian region or created by enthusiast groups, local or international. Amongst them are monuments to the Franco-Prussian War, the sites commemorating the past of East Prussian urban communities, cemeteries and monuments to the German province’s war dead, monuments to Lithuanian artists and intellectuals (a conspicuous exception is the memory of Kristijonas Donelaitis, whose memory was kept alive in the region in the Soviet period).

The 1990s witnessed the erection and revitalisation of innumerable sites commemorating the international and German periods of the region’s history. The memorial activities reached their peak in the second half of the 1990s—2000s. Factors in the surge of commemorative efforts were ‘nostalgic tourism’ to Kaliningrad, Germany’s close attention to the region, growing interest in the pre-war past from local residents and the work of local historians and enthusiasts. In December 1992, an agreement was signed between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany on the maintenance of war graves, which laid a legal foundation for the restoration of German war graves and memorials. The development of the tourism industry, the commercialisation of the memory of the past and the celebration of the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad in 2005 kindled interest in the pre-war past and encouraged the creation of new places of remembrance. The second decade of the 21st century saw a decline in memorial activities related to international historical heritage.